A retinoblastoma is a cancerous tumor on a part of your child’s eye called the retina. It sounds scary, but it’s highly curable if you catch it early. This cancer is affects about 100 children annually in the United States and if left untreated can be fatal, usually within one year.
Causes of this cancer is begin to develop very early in the womb. Cells called retinoblasts grow until they form children’s retina. This is the part in the back of children’s eye that senses light.
Sometimes something goes wrong. The cells don’t stop growing and a tumor forms on her retina. The tumor may grow until it fills the inside of her eyeball. Cancer cells can break off and spread to other parts of her body.
Mostly children 5 years old and under is can get this cancer. It rarely affects adults. Between 200 and 300 children are diagnosed each year. A little less than half of all cases are inherited. That means the gene that makes the cells grow is passed from parent to child. Most of the time retinoblastomas only affect one eye. Inherited cases are more likely to affect both eyes.
There are two types of retinoblastoma. Familial retinoblastoma is hereditary, is passed from parent to child, and is bilateral (affects both eyes). Familial retinoblastoma represents 10% of cases. It is associated with a long-term predisposition to other types of cancer. The second type of retinoblastoma, responsible for 70% of all new cases, is unilateral (only one eye is affected). It represents the non-heritable form of the disease, and carries no increased risk of a second tumor.
Ninety percent of all retinoblastoma cases are diagnosed within the first three years of the child's life. On average, children with familial retinoblastoma typically are diagnosed at four months of age. When there is no family connection, the cancer is usually diagnosed when the child is approximately one to two years of age.
Often the first sign of retinoblastoma that is noticed is leukocoria, a whitening of the pupil that looks like a "cat's eye". This whiteness can be seen in certain lighting conditions. It is often noticed in photographs of the child taken with a flash, which usually causes the eyes to appear red in the picture. Instead of the normal red reflex, you may notice a white pupil in the photo, which comes from the white surface of the tumor itself.
Leukocoria is the most common sign of retinoblastoma and can be seen in 60% of patients. Other signs may include strabismus or crossing of the eyes, which is noticed in 20% of children. Furthermore, in approximately 10% of children, eye swelling with pain and redness occurs.
It is extremely important that a child suspected of having retinoblastoma be evaluated by a team of specialists, including an ocular oncologist, a pediatric ophthalmologist, a radiation oncologist, and a pediatric oncologist within an ocular oncology center. Children with this rare cancer require the most advanced testing and management to ensure the cure of the cancer with preservation of the greatest amount of vision. Specialized testing is very important to confirm diagnosis, as there are no blood tests available to confirm a diagnosis of retinoblastoma. Unlike tumors in other parts of the body, a biopsy cannot be performed due to the risk of spreading cancer cells outside the eye.
And, do you know if Smartphone camera flash can detect a rare eye cancer, potentially saving a child’s life?
That was the case for an Arizona mother who inadvertently detected retinoblastoma in her young son after using a flash phone camera to take pictures of him. Andrea Temarantz noticed a white glow in the left eye of her son Ryder in the photographs she’d taken. Suspecting it was due to a faulty phone camera, Temarantz switched to a better device. When the white spot remained, she took Ryder to see a doctor. The physician identified a tumor, and diagnosed him with retinoblastoma, a potentially fatal eye cancer.
When flash photography creates a white pupil in the eye of a child, it could be that the light is illuminating a tumor not otherwise visible. While a white spot in the eye is not always indicative of a tumor, a visit to the doctor for a diagnosis is always a good precautionary measure.
Temarantz’s experience was not an isolated case. A Rockford, Illinois, child owes his life to a camera flash and a vigilant parent. Julie Fitzgerald noticed a white spot in showing up in photos of her son Avery’s left eye. After reading stories online about similar cases, she decided to take her son to see a doctor. Avery was ultimately diagnosed with retinoblastoma. Unfortunately, his left eye had to be removed, but the diagnosis saved his life.
Using a smartphone’s camera flash to detect a potential instance of retinoblastoma is effective enough that the UK-based Childhood Eye Cancer Trust conducted an ad campaign in 2014 to raise awareness of its life-saving potential for early detection.